AWM 60th Anniversary: The Memorial and its People Dr Peter Stanley

The Memorial's Principal Historian, Dr Peter Stanley presented, "The Memorial and its People", on Sunday, 11 November 2001 as part of the Memorial's 60th anniversary celebrations.

I want to begin this reflection on the Memorial's history by looking at some views of the Memorial soon after its opening. Here are the galleries in 1944.

You can see the Palestine supply dioramas which are still there. What you can't see, though, are any people: no visitors, no staff. Let's try other galleries.

No, not there either. They must be downstairs in the Library.

Where are the people? Outside, perhaps?

It looks like if we're going to find anyone here we're going to have to use our imaginations.

From time to time various directors of the Memorial have been smitten by the desire to record for posterity the people who work for the Memorial. We're dragooned into straggling outside, marshalled onto stairs of the front steps. We all say 'cheese' and we're recorded for posterity.

This afternoon I invite you to imagine a photograph of all the people who've worked for the Memorial since 1917. Think what such a photograph would look like if they could be assembled in our imagination to stand on this spot over the eighty-odd years that the Memorial has existed. Starting on the left would be the handful of members of the original Australian War Records Section, gathered around John Treloar, with Syd Gullett on his motorbike, wearing the faded khaki of the AIF. This part of the image is in black and white, but sharp, recorded forever on glass-plate negatives. As the camera moves the fashions change. By the twenties and thirties all wear civilian clothes, but on Anzac Day and Armistice Day the medals come out, for many who work at the Memorial are what Australians used to call 'returned men'. Some of the people in the back row don't know the people in front of them. This isn't because the Memorial is a big place - there were only 28 members of staff in Melbourne in 1935; twenty men and eight women. Rather, it's because until 1941 the Memorial was located in Sydney and Melbourne, only coming together in one place after the second world war.

In the 1950s the number doesn't grow much greater, though the older men are joined by younger ones wearing 'returned from active service' badges and a few women. Most of these ladies are young women: when they marry they are obliged to leave the public service. This part of the image is in poor focus, for these are the dark years, years we still don't know much about.

And then in the 1970s the image changes to colour. Under the energetic Noel Flanagan and a supportive Board of Trustees and later Council the Memorial undergoes a renewal. The number of people both grows in number and in diversity. They begin to include people who can't recall a world war, who come from overseas, who don't have direct connections to those who belonged to the Australia that the Memorial remembers. As the camera pans around we come to the present. This is a very clear image, taken with a digital camera.

While this immense imaginary group photograph has been gathering the building behind the group has been growing and changing. For the earliest to stand before the camera there was no building, just the sheep paddock where the bush thickened on Mount Ainslie's lower slopes. Then in 1929 there was a commemoration stone. In the late 'thirties it became a building site as the brick and sandstone walls and copper dome rose over the Limestone Plains. From 1941 the building was open, but to us it would have appeared cramped until the wings added in 1971 were built. Gradually landscaping and roadworks would have appeared until we recognise the Memorial we know today.

How many people would this group photograph encompass? A few thousand, perhaps: there are about 500 personnel files dating from 1919 to 1945, though the turnover must be quite high at the end of the twentieth century. If the collection and the Roll of Honour are the heart and soul of the Memorial, these people are the muscles and nerves that make this place a living body, one that changes and reacts and continues to create and constitute the institution: the people who have given it life. Let's pick out a few of the people in this huge imaginary group photograph, a handful of the Australians who have been privileged to have worked for the Memorial.

Quite shamelessly, I'll crib from Michael McKernan's history of the Memorial, Here is Their Spirit, which was published to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Memorial's opening in Canberra. I've also found inspiration in the folios of the old staff files and in the work of my colleagues Anne-Marie Condé and Ian Hodges who have recently completed research on aspects of the Memorial's early history. The personnel records especially give us priceless insights into the working of an entirely different Public Service, one that knew nothing of flextime and benchmarking or management jargon. I want to evoke the old Memorial, which I'll define as the institution which existed before the passing of the present Act. Since I was appointed on the day that Act passed its third reading in Parliament in 1980, it nicely rules off my time from their time.

Let's begin with a man who never saw the museum he helped to create: Corporal Ernie Bailey.

Vignacourt, France. A cemetery showing the graves of Australian soldiers including the grave of 2585 Corporal (Cpl) Ernest Lionel Bailey, Corps Salvage Section (centre).

Ernie was a Londoner who had migrated to Australia aged 23 in about 1908 and had worked as a gold assayer on the Western Australian goldfields. Was he one of those members of the first AIF who had enlisted as much to score a trip home as to serve King and Empire? He made the most of his time in Britain, marrying Emily who lived in Sunderland, in County Durham. By 1918 Ernie Bailey was working for the Australian War Records Section. One day in May Ernie began to scoop out the explosive from a French bomb. He hit the casing with a chisel and there was an explosion. Charles Bean and others came into the yard and saw Bailey 'lying amongst the straw and the shattered German packs'. Someone had thrown a blanket over his body but they could all see that he was badly mutilated, with a leg and an arm blown off.

Charles Bean wrote immediately to Emily in Sunderland. He offered some consolation: 'the Great Australian War Museum when it finally stands in the Australian capital will be a monument to him for it is his work that thousands upon thousands of Australians will see as they walk down those galleries'. Ernie Bailey is buried in the British Cemetery at Vignacourt, and is commemorated on the Roll of Honour above us.

Those who recall the old Library will remember that a memorial plaque to Ernie Bailey used to be fixed to one of the pillars: Perhaps it would be fitting to return it?

It might also be appropriate to spend a moment recalling those - surely many thousands - who would have wanted to work here.

Southall, England. 22 May 1919. Fitting an artificial limb in the limb fitting department at No. 2 Australian Auxiliary Hospital. This hospital specialised in fitting artificial limbs.

Here's someone who might be the man who briefly becomes a part of the Memorial's story. Some of their stories, especially in the early years, are poignant. In April 1920 a letter arrived at the office of the newly-established Australian War Memorial Museum. A man returned from the war sought a job. Before enlisting, he wrote:

'I was a farrier but owing to my war disabilities I cannot carry on with my trade. I am 24 years of age. The work I would like to follow is liftman or any other light work that would suit a limbless man.'

Sadly, John Treloar was obliged to explain that he was unable to offer this man work.

John Treloar

Studio portrait of Lieutenant John Linton Treloar on receiving his commission in the Australian Flying Corps. 

It isn't possible to speak of the first thirty years of the Memorial's history without mentioning John Treloar, the Director from 1920 to 1952. Treloar, a cricket-loving, non-drinking Melbourne Methodist, had been evacuated sick from Gallipoli. He had already proved his ability as a custodian of records as confidential clerk to Brudenell White. In 1917 Treloar was appointed to command the Australian War Records Section.

Treloar became the Director at the age of 26, an age at which most people today would be looking for a job as an APS 6. He carried a heavy burden. He was responsible for a new institution, one seeking to establish a collection, a building and a place in the hearts of the Australian people. As the head of a small staff of fewer than 40 people for most of the period between the wars, Treloar was involved in virtually every aspect of the institution, in library and archival development, publishing and marketing, museum conservation and display. He was a tireless worker, an indefatigable correspondent, and a great worrier. Except for a period in uniform during the Second World War as head of the Military History and Information Section Treloar devoted his life to the Memorial.

He worked long hours, actually living in a cubby hole near his office and signing the attendance book as he walked from his bedroom to his desk. His daughter, Dawn, who worked in the Memorial's Library, ate lunch with him, a meal which he cooked on his primus stove. One day in January 1952 Dawn noticed that the meticulous Treloar had not signed the attendance book, and found him ill in bed. Taken to the Canberra Community Hospital, he seemed to be doing well, but died later in January of an intestinal haemorrhage. Contrary to persistent myth among the staff, Treloar never lived in the Memorial's tower: there is no ghost in the tower. His influence, however, lingers. Anne-Marie Condé's tribute to him suggests how powerfully his spirit infuses Memorial staff sensitive to the evidence. Writing after reading hundreds of letters between Treloar and bereaved families, she writes that he was 'gentle and tactful with the families of men who had died in war, for he lived with his own memories of the sights he had seen and the friends who never came back'.

Bazley and Bean

An awareness of history - of a town, a ship or a nation - can truly be said to inspire. As one of the Memorial's historians I can say that I am often mindful of the example of Arthur Bazley. 'Baz' played a major role in shaping the official records of the Great War, arguably the core of our collection. Here he is with a sinister-looking Charles Bean in Egypt in 1915. One vignette of Bazley is all I can spare, but I believe that it is a telling one. At the outbreak of war in 1939 Bazley was asked to move from Sydney, where he worked with Charles Bean, to Canberra to become Acting Chief Clerk and Librarian. Bean wrote to Tas Heyes, who took over as Director when Treloar joined the AIF. He wrote to record his appreciation of what Bazley had contributed. Bazley, he wrote

… has been responsible from the first for the war records side of my work. He probably knows more about the war records of Australia … than any other man; certainly more than I do. He is accustomed to making quick researches and setting them forth in clear style, & is extraordinarily thorough. In addition he has the ability to write and edit, as his work for Reveille, & the editing of many regimental histories show …

As you know, he is tireless, & the work that he has done out of office hours is probably nearly as valuable as that which he has done in them. He is completely loyal, & an unselfish companion to work with, & we will miss him more than I can say …

Arthur Bazley remains an inspiration to those of us who aspire to follow his example. He reminds us of what we find worthwhile by spending our working lives in proximity to the collection that he created, and how we need to continually touch it - and not a digital version of it - to refresh ourselves and remain mindful of what it means. Bazley's departure from the Memorial in 1946, after finding that he and Treloar were incompatible, reminds us that the Memorial has not always been as kind as it ought to have been to accommodate those who sought to serve it.

There is another Bazley in the Memorial's history: Fred, Arthur's brother. His story reminds us of the larger setting of the first twenty years of the Memorial's existence, years dominated by the aftermath of the Great War and the great depression which blighted the lives of institutions as much as individuals. Late in 1931 an obviously embarrassed Arthur interceded with Treloar and Tas Heyes to seek a position for his brother. Treloar described the problem to a colleague. Fred Bazley, he explained,

Was obviously very distressed and the strain and troubles of unemployment, etc. during the past two years or so have left their mark upon him. He enlisted probably as soon as he was old enough to do so and served in the A.I.F. without any trade or fixed occupation to return to upon his discharge. … I feel that he is especially deserving of assistance.

Fred Bazley had enlisted in 1916 and had returned in 1919. He had been employed by the Memorial before, as a watchman in the early 1920s, when his reputation for unreliability obliged Treloar to let him go. Now, married and with a child he was needy. All Treloar could offer, however, was a couple of months' work as an attendant, and during that time Fred borrowed from workmates in funds. Early in 1932, with the casual job over he walked and hitched from Melbourne to Sydney to look for work there, perhaps to lean again on his brother. Imagining that long tramp and the waiting by the side of the road at Wangaratta, Albury, Junee or Goulburn, evokes the world of that classic novel of depression Australia, My Brother Jack.

Staff at work within the Australian War Memorial library.

Fred Bazley's story reminds us that not all who worked for the Memorial in offices like this devoted their lives to it. But even those who remain for a short while make a contribution. Representative of them is, perhaps, Miss Alma Brown, whose file I plucked at random from the series AWM 93. Miss Brown - as she would have been known in those more formal times - began work as what was described as a Stenographer-Typiste in October 1929. She was a Fund Employee: that is, like the salesmen her work involved the 'Fund' which supported so much of the Memorial's activities, and which still does. Miss Brown's personal file is devoid of much of interest until in October 1931 she became very ill and had to take six weeks off work. As a Christian Scientist Miss Brown refused to consult a doctor, but fought it out and eventually returned to work. The problem was of course, that then as now the Public Service could not grant sick leave without a medical certificate. Miss Brown stoutly held to her convictions and would not see a doctor. John Treloar, acted with a characteristic combination of tact and Methodist rectitude. He could have docked her pay, but did not, instead allowing her to draw on the following year's recreation leave. This, he decided, was the 'fairest course to take'. Three years later Miss Brown left, perhaps in dramatic circumstances. She later wrote to thank Treloar for a reference that secured her a job in Defence, but also to 'apologise for the manner in which I terminated my service with the War Memorial'. Whatever the circumstances - and one of the frustrations of these files is that so much is left undocumented - Treloar praised Alma Brown as an efficient, punctual and most willing worker.

While we're gathering to mark the anniversary of the opening of the Memorial in Canberra we should recall too that not all of its staff made the shift.

The Dickin Medal, the Victoria Cross for animals, awarded to two Australian pigeons, being presented by the Minister for the Army, the Honourable Cyril Chambers to Mr N Baglin, the Australian War Memorial representative.

Norm Baglin had served with the 14th Field Artillery Brigade on the Western Front. Almost exactly the same age as John Treloar, he began work in 1920 as a storeman and later an attendant in the Exhibition Building. He soon became a 'temporary clerk', and remained temporary for nearly twenty years, possibly through the workings of the old Public Service rules for Third Division Officers, for he later went to night school to complete his Intermediate Certificate and qualify for permanency. Norm's the portly, white-haired man with the RSL badge accepting the papers, a picture from 1947.

Though the old Memorial was a small workplace it manifest a curious compound of formality and informality, especially under Treloar's sobre hand. A week before Christmas in 1935 Treloar, who had worked closely with Baglin for fifteen years, wrote to him in a letter headed 'PERSONAL', but began 'Dear Mr Baglin'. Treloar continued '… with the completion of our transfer from Melbourne to Canberra, I feel I ought to thank you for the splendid way in which you have carried out your duties'. How far is this from today's tick-in-the-box 'Business Management Performance Feedback Scheme'? Not until 1938 did Treloar address Baglin as 'Norman'. He seems to have preferred 'Norm', and he comes across as a more racy character than one might expect from the old Memorial.

Norm hadn't followed Treloar and his colleagues to Canberra. He preferred to remain in Melbourne, not, it seems for family reasons, but perhaps because he revelled in the sporting life of the southern capital. He swapped duties with a salesman willing to become a clerk and, equipped with a motor car and a mileage allowance he grew into the job. In requesting an allowance Norm asked Tas Heyes to send him 'a cheque that I can cash at "Young & Jacksons" - the celebrated Melbourne pub - & not one of those beastly cheques which has to be paid to my Banking a/c (when I have one)'. His file includes allusions to the fortunes of his VFL team, Geelong, and to horse racing. Norm's personal file is full of complicated calculations for mileage allowances. In October 1940 a colleague suggested that the sudden submission of a claim 'makes me wonder if possibly it has some relation to your following the sport of kings'. 'I never think of sending in a claim', Norm breezily wrote to Arthur Bazley, 'until I have a severe attack of the "shorts"'. Given a special dispensation by the Public Service Board to work on after turning 65, Norm retired at the age of 68 in 1962.

The Memorial has always been closely associated with the writing and publication of the official histories. A glimpse of Gavin Long's troubles in the 1950s gives an insight into the old Memorial through the eyes of the medical historian, Dr Allan Walker. [insert photo 12 106066]. These are the Second World War official historians, with Allan Walker the silver-haired gentleman to the left of the doorway.

The early 'fifties were the Second World War official history's busiest years, with drafts arriving from authors, to be edited or circulated for comment. Bound by Public Service regulation Long was able to obtain approval for two evenings of overtime per month. The dominance of the Public Service Board (located across what is now the lake in Barton) is apparent in the matter of Mrs Glynis Pope's re-classification. From 1948, Long repeatedly reported that lack of typing assistance was 'very seriously impeding production of the war history'. He sought approval from the Board for Mrs Pope, a typist working for Allan Walker, to be re-classified from Typist Grade 1 to Typist Grade 2. To achieve this promotion, which involved an increase in Mrs Pope's salary of twelve pounds a year, Long had negotiated for a year with a Mr Peverill and a Mr Laird, Public Service Board inspectors. The story is taken up by a satirical parody in Allan Walker's hand, entitled 'Peverill' and placed on the file in retribution.

One day with buds on every tree
The Laird of Barton came,
An angel from the PSB
Pervasive, shy and tame

He held within his clutching hand
A bunch of formal files,
With regulations neatly planned
To beat Departments' wiles

He sat and tried with furrowed brow
Things medical to imbibe,
Deciding if he could endow
Promotion on the scribe …

The Editor long and wordily
The angel then engages,
But still the end could not foresee
As controversy rages …

And as he watched the angel go,
And kept the faintest hope
That he may kindly yet bestow
A blessing on our Pope

This delightful vignette illuminates the administrative atmosphere in which Long and his colleagues worked, and beyond it the little world of old Canberra. It's a world conjured up for me by this photograph:

which is the sit-down farewell tea for Dr Graham Butler in 1948: quite different to the informal gatherings of today. Much in this world, and especially within the Memorial, prompts nostalgia. There was the camaraderie of those who had literally devoted their lives to its service, of the morning tea-cum-smoko, with cakes and slices baked by the ladies, of offices open to old diggers to wander in for a chat. Bill Gammage once touched affectionately upon this world in his recollection of 'the last days of the library's prehistory', in an article in the Memorial's Journal. The contrast with today's Public Service is striking. I was fortunate to have seen its last, baroque phase: in 1980, an overseas letter could only be sent after applying for the requisite aerogramme to the head of the typing pool. She would dispense it from the stores cupboard personally.

Though all the Memorial's founders were men, women have always performed important work in it. Indeed, some of the most long-serving staff have been women and they became the mainstay of the institution, embodying the dedication and self-sacrifice so characteristic of the old Memorial.

Elizabeth Southern

Elizabeth Southern (far right) making a presentation to Mr W.R. Adams, retiring after 34 years in the public service, and his wife Phyllis.

The Memorial's service could entail foregoing opportunities and reward. Elizabeth Southern joined the Memorial in 1933, for much of that time working as the Director's secretary. In 1944, under the operation of the Women's Employment Board, she was paid at the male rate for Clerks Class 1 - the base grade of the old Third Division. When male and female pay rates were made equal, Miss Southern actually saw her classification, and perhaps her pay, reduced. All this time her duties became heavier. She was not only the Director's secretary but was also responsible for ceremonies and for visits, performing duties today undertaken by several people. She personally organised every Anzac Day and Remembrance Day ceremony for thirty years. Not until 1974 was she promoted for the first time, to Clerk Class 4. She missed out on the upward drift in classification through which the Public Service began to pass in the 1970s. Miss Southern retired in 1977, aged 65. Her friends on the staff presented her with a farewell gift of a canteen of cutlery and she later received a British Empire Medal: both doubtless cherished in the long years of retirement before her death in 1999.

Vera Blackburn

Miss Vera Blackburn worked in the Library for over fifty years. She had commenced as a temporary typiste in August 1920 when it was housed in the old Money Order Office of the Melbourne GPO. She too waited a long time for promotion, being appointed Senior Assistant (Female) in 1945. She would have known many of those smiling at our imaginary camera, including Alma Brown, Arthur Bazley, Norm Baglin and Glynis Pope. By 1969 she was, as Bruce Harding observed, 'the last member of the original staff'. Miss Blackburn was evidently a redoubtable and demanding librarian of the old school, formally unqualified but steeped in the idiosyncrasies of her unique collection. The file records her exasperation at a succession of librarians and clerical assistants who did not share her commitment to the records that she had nurtured. Her knowledge was irreplaceable. In ordering the Bean papers, for example, (a task which Michael Piggott completed in 1982) she was able to draw upon Arthur Bazley's advice, one of the last links with the Memorial's founders. She looked apprehensively toward her farewell as an 'ordeal'. Bill Sweeting, who had known her and worked with her for more than thirty years, sensitively counselled her to accept that she had reached the end of her service. 'The time to drop your burden has arrived', he wrote, 'the step is harder the more deeply one is absorbed in one's work'. When in 1971 Miss Blackburn was awarded the Imperial Service Medal she reflected that 'my work was not just a job but a privilege to be able to take part in the building of Australia's history'.

I'm conscious that there are a great many individuals I ought to have mentioned, people on the staff and also in other, equally important roles. I could have talked about our voluntary guides - I'm thinking of ladies like Nan Whitelaw, Joan Whitaker and Norma Wrigley, who've given so much time to the place over so many years. And there's those who've served the Memorial in other roles such as Council. Again, in my time alone I'm recalling distinguished Australians such as Bryan Gandevia, David Ride and Yvonne McComb-King, all of whom did so much to make the Memorial a centre of research. Above all, I'm conscious that I haven't done justice to the people who represented the old Memorial for me when I began here: Elsie Smith, Don Evans, Geoff McKeown, Dorothy Percival and Peter Burness.

The Memorial that they knew has passed. There have been many changes. Alma Brown would today have been offered counselling and sent on a careers management course. We would hope that Fred Bazley's trauma will never again be suffered by an Australian returning from serving in war. Vera Blackburn would be surprised to find that she would not need the foot-warmer she asked for in the winter of 1950. Norm Baglin would now submit his mileage claims by MIBIS, our electronic finance system, though whether he'd be paid with a cheque he could cash at Young & Jackson's is less certain. More importantly, though all these people served in or were closely touched by the Great War, over one in ten of the Memorial's staff today have never met someone who lived through the Great War. But if we have seen many profound changes, we retain many strong connections to those people and the institution they served. The women of the Memorial - and some men - still bring in cakes and slices for morning teas. We try to know our collection as well as they did; perhaps we even take it less for granted. More importantly, we still guard the record that they themselves made, here in the heart of the land they loved; in the shadow of Mount Ainslie, with the sound of the cockatoos and magpies echoing around the Cloisters.